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Christmas by Dickensian Decree

There are holy days of sobering solemnity when one is meant to reflect on the sadness of life, the weakness of human nature, the vast distance between who you are and who you ought to be: Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and Yom Kippur are such spiritually demanding occasions. But Christmas is supposed to be different. It is the consummate feast of joy, when grim thoughts are to be banished. On Easter the Passion of Christ is still close, while on Christmas one tends not to look too far past the glorious birth. Some Renaissance masters who painted the infant Jesus with his mother did foreshadow the inevitable torment and death, including a troubled look on the baby’s face or a menacing black cloud in the background. But those times are long past. We now observe this holiday according to Dickensian decree—golden family happiness, especially the adults’ delight in the children’s delight, occupies the center of the celebration.

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